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Wells classic bends rules of the natural world

An ingenious physicist becomes the world’s first known invisible man after he cracks the code to invisibility

Book Review: Must Reads For Youth

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (Ages 15+)

No one is left more disillusioned of the elusive powers of invisibility than The Invisible Man in this late 19th century work of science fiction.

This classic novel, H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man, bends the rules of the natural world when an ingenious physicist cracks the code to invisibility, becoming the first known invisible man. However, the beginning of the novel is told from an outsider’s perspective, and therefore this mad scientist is simply a stranger covered head-to-toe in clothing so that none of his body is visible (except his shiny “pink as paint” prosthetic nose, of course).

At first, this mysterious stranger stays at a family-run inn to get back on his feet after an unknown and shocking string of events only revealed later on. During his stay, the strange man exhibits startlingly hostile and bizarre behaviour that gathers much attention from those inside and outside the cosy inn. Especially as an unusual trend of thieveries and happenings take place (from violent sneezes in empty hallways to furniture seemingly going mad), the village demands answers from this antagonistic visitor, resulting in the climactic unveiling of his invisibility.

Having been exposed as a burglar, virtually the entire village is after him. Naturally, he sheds his disguise to seemingly disappear into thin air, but the angry mob doesn’t give up so easily! The ensuing chaos is one of my favourite parts of this novel, as it is almost comical how the fight scene details everyone attempting to strike a blow to the air in order to bring him down. By a miracle, it seems, he escapes … but it is later revealed that this was not the first situation of its kind The Invisible Man has had to fight his way out of.

Soon, he is the most hated and wanted man in 1890s West Sussex, England. It is when he is on the run, once again, that the reader is face-to-face with more unexpected drawbacks of invisibility powers. Some of my favourites are as follows: he cannot eat in public because the food is visible inside his organs until it fully passes through his system, it is difficult to find time and shelter to sleep (particularly when being hunted by masses of – rightfully? – angry townsfolk) without being touched by anything, and one needs to be extra vigilant of snow/rain due to how it will expose their invisible frame.

Regardless, The Invisible Man braves the journey, survives the chase (as well as the new hunts that follow), continues to instigate town uprisings (many say he is not good at actually being invisible), and finds his dear old friend, Dr Kemp. This is where the chronological telling of the inventive physicist’s past comes to light, and everything from the scientific theory that made this power possible, to the intense unprecedented sacrifices he made, is unearthed. This includes an emotional retelling of the pivotal misfortune that solidified his resolve to finish his life’s work of invisibility in the first place – a sorrow indirectly inflicted by yours truly …

Moreover, I considered the thorough explanation of light wave manipulation – a lot of well-explained reflection-refraction physics jargon and experiments for those interested in the nuances of this otherworldly power – to add high-quality depth to the “science versus nature” theme of this classic novel, and despite my personal strong aversion to studies of the natural sciences, further engaged me in the mad scientist’s state of mind.

This tense and dynamic tell-all discussion with Dr Kemp provides the reader with some much needed insight into The Invisible Man’s situation (including the well-kept secret of his real name…), thoroughly contextualising his abrupt and – at times – absurd behaviour back at the inn.

Having said that, this chat is much more than purely catching up with an old friend while sharing tumultuous tragedies and daring discoveries: The Invisible Man has an alarming proposal for Dr Kemp. Similar to an arrangement he had in the past, the physicist offers a scheme so horrifying that it threatens to completely destroy any peace left in Victorian era England, setting forth a new age of TERROR (this is a pun you’ll understand once you read up to this point in the novel)!

Will Dr Kemp accept this proposal? What does this mean for the temperamental and unpredictable invisible scientist? How truly safe are the people of West Sheffield? I encourage all to find answers to these important questions by giving H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man a read. Apologies for the minor spoilers, but my thoughts on the novel needed to be clearly contextualised in order to make sense.

The Invisible Man is a pivotal science fiction work that has inspired various other “man versus nature” works that highlight the dangers of too-hasty scientific advancements. Much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this novel showcases the consequences of ambitious science going unchecked while being concentrated in morally ambiguous hands. For further reading on this subject, I’d recommend exploring the Orwell versus Wells clash on science’s place in advancing humanity. Fun fact: Wells was Orwell’s literary hero until they supposedly fell out over a string of heated debates over science and its related policies.

• On a final note, I would also like to hear your thoughts on my column; for any comments on The Invisible Man or simply to give me a book recommendation of whatever you’re reading at the moment, contact me at bookspacebda@gmail.com to tell me all about it! For frequent updates on what I’m currently reading, follow @bookspacebda on Instagram!

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Published August 14, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated August 14, 2023 at 7:11 am)

Wells classic bends rules of the natural world

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